Reviews by Leah A. Zeldes

Miss Cayley's Adventures

by Grant Allen

In this fun romantic adventure, intrepid Lois Cayley, freshly graduated from Girton, and all but penniless, decides to travel the world, with no advance planning whatever.

Through luck and serendipity, she starts out as a companion to a cantankerous old lady, Lady Georgina Fawley, bound for a rest cure on the Continent. Lois next becomes a sales agent for bicycles in Switzerland, opens a typewriting business in Florence and then tries her hand at journalism in Egypt. Along the way, she winds up involved with several other members of Lady G's family, receives several proposals of marriage and foils various machinations of an artful con man.

Fans of Elizabeth Peters and Alexander McCall Smith, among others, should enjoy the feisty Miss Cayley.

Reviewed on 2016.01.11

The Notting Hill Mystery

by Charles Felix

This epistolary novel covers the deaths of an heiress, her husband and her sister, all of whom have come under the influence of the sinister Baron R***, a mesmerist. The mechanism of the murder seems unlikely, but it becomes very obvious quite early on.

Reviewed on 2015.12.23

The Confessions of Artemas Quibble

by Arthur Cheney Train

Written in 1911 by Arthur Train, onetime assistant district attorney for New York county, later known for his humorous stories about the fictional lawyer Ephraim Tutt, "the best-known lawyer in America," these fictional reminiscences describe early 20th-century law as recounted by Artemas Quibble, a successfully shady New York criminal lawyer.

The story is most interesting in the beginning, when Quibble recounts his early life and how he came to practice law, rather than later when it settles into a series of anecdotes about his cases and pettifogging legal slight of hand. But there's not enough action or humor to sustain it all the way through.

Reviewed on 2015.12.23

The Ultimate Weapon

by John W. Campbell, Jr.

As editor of Astounding Stories, John W. Campbell was a huge influence on the then new field of science fiction, but as a writer, he wasn't nearly as good. Originally serialized as "Uncertainty," this 1936 novel is a classic example of nuts-and-bolts SF — much more of it is explaining how things work than anything like character development.

The explanations are usually delivered as lectures from the hero, Buck Kendall, a millionaire scientist who joined the Interplanetary Patrol on a bet.

I suppose this "Beware the coming invader!" tale could be seen as a kind of prediction, based on the menacing factors that led to World War II: When his men are killed in a strange, brief encounter with a vast and powerful alien starship, Kendall can't get his superiors to believe in the threat, so he resigns and revisits the matter as an influential multi-millionaire. Of course, they listen to him then.

That's about the end of anything that's not building and testing weapons of destruction against the coming invasion. The junior scientists of the day might have found it fascinating, but passages like, “The secret of perfect reflection lies at a molecular level in the organization of matter,” and “He's developed a system, which, thanks to the power we can get in that atostor, will sextuply ionize oxygen gas,” don't do much for me.

I'm sure the science and engineering were as accurate as 1936 could postulate, and somebody with a better physics education than I have might be interested to see how close Campbell came, although even I can tell that much of it is dated. Anybody can see that having your year 2300 space patrol communicate by Morse code, sketch drawings on paper instead of using a camera, and carry half-dollar coins is dated. I overlook things like that in better stories, but this one doesn't have much else going for it.

There is a certain amount of action as we see how far the aliens get in destroying "Solarian" stations around the solar system before the Earthmen (no women in this!) triumph, and that's no spoiler because what else would you expect in a 1936 story?

Reviewed on 2015.12.22

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